HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Catholic churches in yellow counties are preparing to host masses open to the public for the first time in months. This is the last weekend streaming services will be the only option in the Midstate, since the Diocese of Harrisburg is implementing universal changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Only churches in yellow counties in Central PA will be offering in-person services starting May 31. Some parishes in Northern PA have already reopened.
Parishes have and will continue to stream mass during the coronavirus pandemic, but now they’re gearing up to welcome the faithful.
“Opening windows, keeping doors open is an important part of it,” said Bishop Ronald Gainer.
Bishop Gainer says constant ventilation and cleaning in between masses is key.
“The pews, doors, doorknobs, railings, restrooms,” said Bishop Gainer.
The Diocese is making social distancing a requirement and is only allowing churches to reach a third of their occupancy.
People will be in every third pew, and within each pew, families will be six feet apart.
If possible, masses will be held outside or at other locations.
“Some parishes have a very large social hall, or maybe an auditorium, a gym,” said Bishop Gainer.
Bibles and hymnals will be temporarily replaced with disposable handouts.
Holy Communion will be happening at the end of mass, instead of in the middle, so community members can form socially distant lines, and priests can switch garments and put on a mask.
“If there is should be contact with the person receiving in their hand or receiving on the tongue, at any point whether there’s contact, the priest or deacon would stop sanitize his hands and then resume,” said Bishop Gainer.
While these changes are new in our lifetime, the Catholic Church is 2,000 years old, so as Bishop Gainer says, it’s been there, done that.
“I have a copy of a letter written on October the 4th in 1918 by Archbishop Dougherty of Philadelphia in the beginning of the Spanish flu pandemic and he gives the order for closing all catholic parishes,” said Bishop Ganier.
What is historic is this use of technology.
In the Church, there is an obligation to attend mass on Sunday, but the bishop has the power to relieve people of that.
At this point, he is continuing to do so, with the hopes that Catholics will worship in some way or another.
“That’s one of the wonderful things that’s developed here is trying to bring the church to the homes of the faithful,” said Bishop Gainer.
The Bishop says it’s still up to individuals if they’d like to attend church in-person or continue to live stream as this virus gets under control.
Places of worship for different religions are all navigating this pandemic in their own ways.
God’s Missionary Church in Lebanon is reopening this weekend.
It had been doing services and classes online and even hosted speakers virtually to avoid canceling events.
The pastor assembled a team that will section out the sanctuary to be sure it doesn’t surpass the 50% occupancy requirement put in place by the Department of Health.
The nearby Family Life Center will be used for overflow seating.
Meanwhile, the Hadee Mosque Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Harrisburg is still encouraging people to pray at their homes. Members are staying connected via social media, YouTube and Zoom.
Earlier this month, members of the mosque, as well as government leaders and people of other religions joined a Zoom meeting to for a virtual Iftar, which is a meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan.
Two to three people have been allowed into the mosque at a time, though a spokesman says many worshipers have set aside areas in their home for prayers.
Eid, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, will be celebrated at home with immediate family members.